Restaurants have caught on to this new thing, and it’s called not taking reservations. In some cases, that blows up in their faces, but in the case of the three restaurants on our list, it’s created a frenzy.
These spots may be walk in only, but they are worth the potential two- to three-hour wait. We break down why below. We’ll also give you tips for what to do while waiting and how to approach getting a table with the best strategy possible.
Ready, set, game plan.
1346 T St. NW, Washington, DC 20009
Compass Rose is the most adorable restaurant, right off of the ever-popular 14th Street Corridor in Northwest DC. It’s located in a converted row house, and while it has preserved the gorgeous exposed brick and historic charm, it’s also preserved the small space. So there’s not a lot of seating.
We recommend coming in an hour or so before you actually want to eat and putting your name on the list. That way you won’t be hangry. It’s lucky that this spot is in the middle of so many bars, because in the meantime, you can enjoy happy hour at the neighboring Café Saint-Ex or grab a margarita at Taqueria Nacional across the street.
Why is this place worth the wait? Well, the moment you do actually sit down, you’ll notice how cozy and warm the space feels. The concept of the restaurant is international street food, all served as tapas, so whether you’re in a group or on a date, you’ll be able to enjoy a wide range of dishes (and cuisines from around the world!). Everything is lovingly prepared, but you can’t leave without trying the khachapuri, a Georgian cheese bread; the Jamaican lamb curry; or the fresh poke.
And it’s worth coming back because the menu changes seasonally. Plus, where else are you going to find such a unique concept as international street food?
1513 17th St. NW, Washington, DC 20036
Duke’s Grocery has the best burger in Washington, DC. To eat said burger, though, you may have to wait a little. This spot is also located in a converted row house, so table space is limited, and it doesn’t take reservations if your party has fewer than six guests.
However, if you love a good burger, and British pub food in general, it’s worth standing around for a bit until you can get seated. If it’s nice out, we recommend waiting until you can sit at one of the long wooden tables in the front, which is also a perfect people-watching perch.
The moment you bite into this juicy, truly delicious, proper burger, you’ll thank us for making you wait.
1511 17th St. NW, Washington, DC 20036
Little Serow is not only a no-reservations restaurant; it’s also a place where you eat what the chef serves you. The cuisine is from Northern Thailand, and each dish has such an aroma of spices and herbs, your mouth will be watering long before food arrives at your table.
Here’s how this place works. You pay a set price for this week’s menu, and each plate is served to you in the chef’s careful order. Sometimes it’s better to be told what to eat, especially if it’s a type of food you’re unfamiliar with, right?
And, of course, as you know by now, no reservations, no phone-ins. If you really want to dine here (or any of the other choices on this list), the best times to try are the earlier and later parts of the evening. Everyone wants to dine at 7:30 p.m., but if you can be flexible, you’ll often be rewarded with a much shorter waiting time.
All three of these restaurants may not take reservations, and there may be a few hoops you have to jump through before you can enjoy your meal, but they’re worth it for the quality of food, unique vibes and elevated service. Dining is an experience, and if you’re looking for the best, you’ve got to be patient.
Don’t fret—it’s all part of the DC dining scene. You squirm a little for your best meals.
Tell us if you’ve been to any of the places on our list or if there’s another no-reservations restaurant you’d like to share in the comments below!